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Looking for advice on DCC purchase

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  • Member since
    March 2008
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Looking for advice on DCC purchase
Posted by ruderunner on Saturday, March 15, 2008 5:49 PM

First post here and I'm sure it's been handled but...

      I'm currently building a layout and after looking at the costs of some better dc controlers versus starter DCC systems I've decided to go DCC.  I'm looking for some guidence on what a good system for my needs would be. So here's a rundown of some things I want and some info on my layout:

layout has about 120' double track main line, one 12' spur, 6 track yard(10' end to end) and is setup as a continuous loop. I'm adding buss wires and feeders at this time. Will be run mostly as a point to point using the yard as both terminals (i.e.the trains get to the yard, turn and head back the way they came) but sometime it's fun to just watch the trains go round. 

I'm looking for a system that can operate up to 8 locos )perhaps 6 at one time) and handle 3 operators. I'd like a system that has/can use wireless throttles (up to 3). I would like to add sound at some point.   I don't need a system that controls turnouts and reverse loops. I don't need 50 functions per train either.  I do need to be able to set some CV's (speed mostly to control the kids)  I'll likely be using Bachman locos at first (budget friendly for the kids)

After some searching the fourms here it looks like the Zephyr is highly reccomended as a basic system and it appears to meet my needs. I looked also at Bachmans system and found it wouldn't allow programming cv's so it's out.  What abuot MRC Prodigy?  It seems to have mixed reviews, mainly durability issues but I've not had any problems with other MRC products over the years. 

Also some questions about DCC in general, mainly do I need a booster for what I have in mind? And how does one get wired up if I do need one?

Thanks for the feedback, it will be nice to get back to the hobby after 15 years.

ps: I've been going through JFugates thread on DCC...

Modeling the Cleveland and Pittsburgh during the PennCentral era starting on the Cleveland lakefront and ending in Mingo junction

  • Member since
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  • From: Kansas
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Posted by jamnest on Saturday, March 15, 2008 7:16 PM

There are lots of good DCC systems out there that will meet your needs.  I have been Digitrax Super Chief (radio) owner/user for about 10 years.  I would suggest that if you can, try before you buy.  See if your LHS, club or friends will let you try operating a DCC system. You will get lots of advice about DCC systems, but I would recomend a DCC system that has a computer interface.  Why?

DECODER PRO

Decoder Pro is a free Java based program that lets you program your DCC decoders (and lots of other things too) by using your personal computer. It sure beats punching a lot of number codes into your DCC system.

Jim, Modeling the Kansas City Southern Lines in HO scale.

  • Member since
    January 2007
  • From: Eastern Shore Virginia
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Posted by gandydancer19 on Saturday, March 15, 2008 7:49 PM

I purchased an NCE system, a power pro several years ago, and I am not sorry I did. I used one at a friends layout first and it felt right for me. The thing that I like most about NCE is that it is really easy to use for programming locomotives. It is also easy to used for doing just about everything. It is a good, well made basic DCC system. I see so many times in posts on different groups of people having trouble programming and inadequate manuals. NCE also has excellent support and well written manuals. Joe's tutorial on which system to get is a good one, so that should help. NCE also has a wireless system and components. You can also add and control stationary decoders if you wish, once you really get into it. And, NCE is made in America. That's my recommendation, but, hey, I'm biased.

Now I am going to talk a little about Digitrax. (We use it at our club) IMHO I think it is harder to learn and use. You have to send a command to power up the layout each time, not just throw a switch to turn the system on. I have been hearing for a long time that the manuals leave some things to be desired. I am currently installing detection and signaling on the club layout, and I love their LocoNet control bus and their SE8C signal board.

There are going to be a lot of opinions on which system you should buy. If at all possible, when you think you have decided which system you want, go to your local hobby shop and see if they can set you up to visit someone who is using that system, and go use and program with it. Most model railroaders will be happy to show off their systems and layout.

Elmer.

Elmer.

The above is my opinion, from an active and experienced Model Railroader in N scale and HO since 1961.

(Modeling Freelance, Eastern US, HO scale, in 1962, with NCE DCC for locomotive control and a stand alone LocoNet for block detection and signals.) http://waynes-trains.com/ at home, and N scale at the Club.

  • Member since
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  • From: Overland Park, KS
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Posted by dadret on Sunday, March 16, 2008 6:15 AM
Just about any of the major systems (MRC Prodigy, NCE, Digitrax) will do what you want so it usually comes down to cost, ease of use, and your personal preference.  I use Prodigy Advance and have had it for two years with no problems.  Kalmbach has a couple of good books on selecting a system.  You can also look at Tony's Trains website for comparisons or try www.dcc-by-dcc.com.  As far as a booster it depends more on how many locos you will run ay the same time then the size of the layout.  If you're running six or more with sound you will likely need one.
  • Member since
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Posted by ruderunner on Sunday, March 16, 2008 6:36 AM

Ahhh the try before you buy...unfortunately I don't have a LHS unless you consider an hour one way local.  I'm pretty much a lone wolf modeler as well.  That said I plan to hit some nearby train shows and see if anyone will show their system or maybe test run one.   I knd of figured that adding sound would require more power but thats a later date thing (get it running first then upgrade) I just wasn't sure if track length had an effect on power equirements. 



So the Zephyr would have enough power to run trains (without sound)? I noticed the Prodigy has only 1.6 amp output so that system would need a booster to run 6 trains? Prodigy advanced has a 4 amp power rating which should be more than enough as well.

Modeling the Cleveland and Pittsburgh during the PennCentral era starting on the Cleveland lakefront and ending in Mingo junction

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Posted by simon1966 on Sunday, March 16, 2008 7:04 AM

Just as an FYI, I have run 8 sound equipped locomotives in the power district powered by my Zephyr without any problem.  These were a combination of QSI equipped Broadway Limited and Atlas locos, and some Soundtraxx and MRC equipped locos.  I did this as an experiment as there is no way that I could actually manage that many running at once.  At the time of the experiment this was all the sound locos I had so I don't know if it would have handled more.

On the subject of manuals.  The newer Digitrax manuals are much better than those issued during the era that they deservedly got a bad rap.  If you can't understand the Z manual then there is something wrong, most likely illiteracy. Big Smile [:D]

As for ease of use, out of the 3 being discussed here I would rate MRC as the easiest, NCE next and then Digitrax.  The ease of use is most exemplified during the programming process.  I use a PC interface and Decoder Pro software for all my decoder programming, so for me, any short comings in the Digitrax programming interface are eliminated.  In daily operational use there really is not much to choose between the.  It might take a few more minutes to get the hang of something on the Digitrax throttle, but once you know the system its not at all hard to run.

As for advice on the purchase decision; you can't really go wrong with any of the big names in terms of getting a quality product that will do the job.  What I would advise is that you weigh up the features that are important to you.  For example, if sound locos are going to be important, then I would seriously consider getting a system with a PC interface option that can run Decoder Pro.  This piece of free software is the best thing that has come to DCC IMO and well worth using.  I would certainly consider the need for being able to add power at a later date to the system.  If I were you I would probably not consider the Prodigy Express because I think its limitations will catch up with you.

Simon Modelling CB&Q and Wabash See my slowly evolving layout on my picturetrail site http://www.picturetrail.com/simontrains and our videos at http://www.youtube.com/user/MrCrispybake?feature=mhum

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Posted by Phoebe Vet on Sunday, March 16, 2008 8:07 AM

I am only familiar with the two systems I have owned.  A Bachmann EZ Command/DCC engine combination that I bought to learn about this new fangled DCC thing, and the Digitrax Chief that I quickly changed to.

I have never used any of the others, though I have seen them demonstrated at train shows.

I keep reading in here about how difficult Digitrax is to learn.  My 9 year old granddaughter loves it, and spent less than 5 minutes learning it.  My 4 year old granddaughter can run a train with it.  I think the manuals are very clear.  I have not yet added a computer interface, but I am sure I will someday.  There is already a computer in the train room, which used to be my camera room before I retired from my photo business.

Dave

Lackawanna Route of the Phoebe Snow

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Posted by jwils1 on Sunday, March 16, 2008 12:51 PM

You may want to take a look at EasyDCC by CVP Products:  http://cvpusa.com/

This might fit your needs pretty well and their radio performance is excellent.  No plugging in to acquire and dispatch locos, which is a Digitrax requirement.  However, Digitrax will be offering a new radio system that will probably be very good also.  If you go Digitrax you can always upgrade later.

MRC radio is also very good but they don't yet have a computer interface available if that's important to you (it is in the planning stage however).

Since you won't be operating turnouts via DCC, the smaller engineer's throttles are nice for just running trains (no programming).  Digitrax, NCE and EasyDCC all have nice ones.  MRC has just one size throttle that does everything but it is larger than the other's engineer's throttles, but I really like the MRC radio throttle because sometimes it's really handy to be able to program a CV on the fly.

You have a rather tough decision as all of the systems mentioned should could work well for you.  Some hands on testing would be helpful.  Otherwise careful study of system capability and their manuals on line should help in zeroing in on what appeals to you the most. 

Jerry

Rio Grande vs. Santa Fe.....the battle is over but the glory remains!

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Posted by CSX Robert on Sunday, March 16, 2008 2:57 PM
 gandydancer19 wrote:

... You have to send a command to power up the layout each time, not just throw a switch to turn the system on...


This is an option with Digitax. You can set the command station to restore track power to it's last state(track power on if it was on when the command station was turned off, off if track power was off when the command station was turned off) or to have the track power always off when the command station is turned on. I like this option because I prefer to turn on track power after powering up the rest of the layout. Also, since it was mentioned, Digitrax is also made in the USA.
  • Member since
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Posted by ruderunner on Wednesday, March 19, 2008 7:18 PM
Well it seems that the general consensus is that Zephyr is gonna work for me. Actually,Ilike that it's a console versus throttle setup, less likelyhood of the whole system crashing when it hits the floor. Plus easy upgrades later, and powerfull enough for my current and immediate future needs.
But I think I found a fatal flaw in my plan... One thing I wanted to do with DCC was to control the top speed of the locos, slow 'em down for more prototypical action as well as minimize derailments and damage from the inevitible "Casey Jones" incident. I was under the impression that the command station did this, but now it seems like it's in the decoders. And it appears that the Bachmann locos I was considering don't support speed controls. So now I'm looking for a confirmation on that info and if it's true what is reccomended? If I have to get different decoders and or locos, I'd likely go with Digitrax decoders for the matched system and I like the Soundbug upgrade they offer. Any insight? I was really looking forward to getting a Sharknose with dcc...

Modeling the Cleveland and Pittsburgh during the PennCentral era starting on the Cleveland lakefront and ending in Mingo junction

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Posted by simon1966 on Wednesday, March 19, 2008 7:39 PM
Ruderunner, I am a Z owner and happily use decoders from NCE, Lenz, TCS, QSI, Soundtraxx and MRC as well as Digitrax.  All work just fine under Z control, so don't feel you have to use Digitrax decoders for compatibility reasons.  I am not familiar with the Bachmann decoders, though I seem to recall that they have used decoders from different manufacturers at different times, including Lenz and MRC.  I would be mighty surprised if there was no min/mid/max voltage settings.  They may not support speed curves, but you should be able to limit the top end voltage and therefore the speed.

Simon Modelling CB&Q and Wabash See my slowly evolving layout on my picturetrail site http://www.picturetrail.com/simontrains and our videos at http://www.youtube.com/user/MrCrispybake?feature=mhum

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